New monastery will reflect order’s simple lifestyle
by John Heuertz
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor.”
With these words, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann opened a groundbreaking ceremony Aug. 27 for a new monastery for the Community of the Lamb, a group of Dominican religious founded in France in 1963.
“Lumen Christi” — the “Light of Christ” — located at 36 S. Boeke St. in Kansas City, Kan., will be the community’s first monastery in North America.
Six Sisters and three Brothers make up the current Community of the Lamb in the archdiocese. The new complex will have individual rooms, or “cells,” for four Sisters, up to three people interested in joining the community, and three Brothers or guests.
“We told the archbishop we’d keep one open for him all the time, and I think he might come and use it,” said Mike Book of Shawnee, one of the community’s lay supporters.
Dominicans, like Franciscans, traditionally take a very minimalist approach to material comforts. This cornerstone of the Dominican mindset is reflected in the new monastery’s design.
“It will be like what the Sisters have put in their residence now: all simple woodwork,” said Book. “The new monastery buildings will have low ceilings and be very simple and modest.”
Nearly 800 years ago, St. Dominic specified that his new followers live in buildings that were very low to the ground, with low attics and low ceilings. Dominic wanted very well-trained and utterly orthodox preachers — but also ones that the poorest members of society could relate to.
A chapel in the center of the new complex will have low walls and a low ceiling, and be enclosed with four wings of cells. At about 80 square feet per cell in which to live, pray, read and sleep, the new monastery’s planning also reflects the fourfold Dominican charism of prayer, study, community and preaching.
Building permits and code considerations have slowed progress thus far. But at Saturday’s groundbreaking, Mayor Joe Reardon promised the full cooperation of city officials in helping the community get the kind of buildings it wants, while still complying with city regulations.
The Sisters now live in the former St. Benedict Church rectory, built around 1930. The Brothers rent a house on the next block. Plans call for the rectory to be razed and its foundation reused for a new building with meeting rooms, a kitchen and a refectory.
“When I first met the Little Sisters, one of them took me outside and asked me if I could see the monastery,” said the archbishop.
“I thought, ‘We’re looking at a vacant lot. What have I gotten myself into?” he continued. “But I can see it today.”
Original cost estimates were about $1.2 million for the project, most of which the Sisters raised in 18 months. But contractors are now bidding in the $2 million range.
The community decided to go ahead with the groundbreaking anyway, Book said, “and have confidence that God is going to provide.”
“Usually, we’d have all the permissions and the plan for the money in place first,” said Archbishop Naumann. “But I’m confident we can raise the rest with God’s grace, and I assure the mayor we mean no disrespect.”
“Everything is a little unorthodox about the Little Sisters,” he explained. “Not in teaching or way or life, but in the total way they follow Christ.”
The mayor was equally enthusiastic.
“I am so appreciative that the Little Sisters have chosen Kansas City, Kansas, as their place to spread God’s word,” Mayor Reardon said.
“Thank you, Sisters,” he added, “for letting us be part of it.”